A round-the-world trip
to Skoltech to develop code
for structure determination
Michele Galasso | PhD, Skoltech
Meet Michele Galasso, a current PhD student of the Materials Science Program. Michele started his Master's degree in Sweden, but finished it in Russia and has never looked back. Do you want to know why? Read his story!
why I chose Skoltech
I am from a sunny little town in southern Italy, not far from Naples. After school I moved to Turin, a big city in the north of the country, where I enrolled in a Bachelor's degree program in Engineering Physics at the Polytechnic University. There I could combine my deep interest in theoretical physics with my curiosity about practical applications. During that time I also liked to live in a big city, I made a lot of international friends and I started thinking about enrolling in a Master's program abroad after graduation. I eventually did that, so in 2015 I moved to Sweden, where for one and a half years I studied Engineering Physics at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. The Master's program there lasts for two years, but during the last 6 months I was already in Moscow, writing my Master's thesis at Skoltech.

During my second year of study in Sweden I had a wonderful course called Computational Physics, given by Professor Anatoly Belonoshko. I thought that this field could be the perfect balance for me between theory and application, so I decided to explore it more in deep by writing my Master's thesis about it. Professor Belonoshko put me in contact with Professor Artem Oganov, my current supervisor at Skoltech, and in January 2017 I moved to Moscow. Here I started to write my Master's thesis in the field of Materials Science, and more precisely of crystal structure prediction. I liked a lot both my work and Moscow. Those 6 months flew very fast, so I decided to stay for PhD.

Materials Science
Modern industry is in great need of professionals in materials science, ready to develop new materials and devices for application in renewable energy, consumer electronics, healthcare, and other areas. Our practical approach gives our graduates the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills for success in electronics, energy, chemicals, automotive industry, and other sectors. Learn more.
PhD experience at Skoltech
I really like to work with my supervisor and with my research group. It is an incredible mix of smart people with different backgrounds, at different levels of study (from bachelor's to postdoc) and working on different topics. By interacting with them I've got a lot of useful feedback about my work, I could in turn give my comments to other people's work and I got a lot of useful ideas, which led me to a quick progress with my research. I also like the fact that in the PhD program at Skoltech a lot of emphasis is put on research, keeping the number of exams and the teaching requirements at a minimum. Last but not least, while studying at Skoltech I had the opportunity to travel to several conferences and schools, where I could learn a lot and I could expand my network.
During my PhD I focused on two main projects: the development of an algorithm for accelerating the discovery of new magnetic materials and the decryption of crystal structures from X-ray diffraction experiments.

In the first case, given the geometry of a hypothetical new material (that is, knowing how atoms
are arranged in space), I wrote a code that can calculate the intensity of the magnetic field created by the material, its magnetic properties, like ferromagnetism or antiferromagnetism, and the temperature below which the material exhibits those properties. In this way, before a new magnetic material exists at all, scientists can already know what to expect from it, which are its possible fields of application and if the attempt to synthesize it is worth at all.

In the second case the material exists. It has already been synthesized in a laboratory as a product of some chemical reaction, usually under high pressure. The difficulty here lies in the fact that the crystal structure of the material is usually unknown. The easiest way to investigate it is by irradiating the new material with X-rays, in order to obtain a diffraction pattern. This is similar to looking to a plantation from a moving car and, by observing the trees aligning multiple times before your eyes, trying to understand which geometrical pattern they form. Structure determination is a hard task to do by hand, especially with poor quality X-ray data, so I developed a code which can do this automatically.
free time
I am a musician. My main instrument is the saxophone, but I can also play the piano and I recently started to learn guitar. There have been times when I played professionally, but now I play mostly for my friends, during my free time.

I also like to learn languages. I have a good level of English, Swedish and Russian, and a basic level of Chinese. The thing I like most about learning languages is to practice them with native speakers. I also enjoy reading books, especially novels, and I love travelling. I have visited more than 20 countries in the world and more than 15 regions in Russia. As a summer activity, I like skateboarding.

my goals and advice for future students
My primary goal is PhD graduation, which I plan in early 2022. I also plan to strengthen my programming skills and expand my professional network — two very useful things for my future career. At the same time I plan to work on my soft skills, in particular public speaking. Apart from work, I dream to travel to China and to practice there my Chinese.

For the future Skoltech students I would like to say — study hard, but at the same time do not forget about social life. Take advantage of everything that is offered to you, such as events, guest lectures and possibilities to travel. Skoltech is a very nice and open community. I got a lot from fellow students, professors and people that I just met at some event. Here there is no formal hierarchy between students and professors, or between students at different levels of their study. We all interact a lot and we have lunch at the same canteen. Take advantage of that.

and now about Skoltech
We are Skoltech – a new international English-speaking STEM university that was founded by the group of world-renowned scientists in 2011 in Moscow, Russia. In just 8 years, we united dozens of researchers and globally renowned professors, built a stunning campus, set up world-class labs and made it to the top 100 young universities in the Nature Index. Read more >>
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